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What UAE’s growing presence in Somaliland means for its Horn of Africa strategy

The UAE reorients its strategy from one of military intervention to economic investment and power.
Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi is seen on-screen as he speaks via video link during the opening ceremony of the Somaliland representative office in Taipei on Sept. 9, 2020.

Abdullah Muhammad al-Naqbi was sworn in on March 17 as director of the United Arab Emirates Trade Office in Somaliland. This appointment sparked immediate controversy due to contradictory messages from Somaliland’s official Twitter channels. Somaliland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed that the UAE had appointed an ambassador to Somaliland, while Somaliland’s President Muse Bihi Abdi stated that the UAE had appointed a representative to the autonomous region. Notwithstanding the botched announcement of his appointment, Naqbi pledged to further consolidate the UAE’s “brotherly relations” with Somaliland, and DP World immediately launched plans to expand its flagship Berbera Port.

Naqbi’s appointment was greeted with sharply divided reactions in Somalia and Somaliland. In Mogadishu, his arrival was regarded as a UAE tactic to destabilize Somalia and undermine its sovereignty. A prominent Somali analyst told Al-Monitor that “the UAE typically uses Somali regions to pressure the central government.” The analyst contended that “the UAE took this step at this late hour in [Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo Mohamed's] term” to accrue political influence ahead of Somalia’s elections and “help the Somali opposition defeat Farmaajo.”

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